Repost: How to Shop on eBay

I’ll be posting outfits this week, but taking a break from regular content so I can spend time with my family. In the meantime, here’s a gem from the archives!

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I have nabbed some incredible deals on eBay. Deals so good they make me blush. Gorgeous French boots at a fifth of their retail price, vintage coats for $10, necklaces that garner dozens of comments every time they’re worn … and the list goes on.

Do I have some magical skill set that allows me to ferret out these deals? Nope. Are my methods top secret and difficult to employ? No way. Do I troll eBay on a daily basis looking for deals … well, sort of, but we’ll get to that. Bottom line is that my eBay finds are equal parts persistence, patience, and luck. And I’d be happy to tell you exactly how I utilize this amazing shopping resource so that you, too, can score deals so amazing they’ll make you blush.

But first, let me give a short summary: eBay is a community of buyers and sellers loosely governed by the rules of the site. When you are looking at a product entry, you may be buying from a company or a collective … but more likely, you are buying from an individual. Someone just like you. Sellers can be as detailed or vague as they want when they list a product for sale, and set their own prices. You can always contact a seller if you have a question, want to see more photos, or need more information about an item, but they are under no obligation to respond in a timely manner.

Some products can be bought immediately at a set price – look for the “Buy it Now” label if you prefer this route – but most products are sold in auction format. You enter a price you’re willing to pay and, if no one enters a higher price that THEY’RE willing to pay, the item is sold to you.

I won’t bore you with more nitty-gritty details of pricing, buying, or consumer protection as eBay has fantastic resources on all of these topics. Check their eBay University Learning Center for great tutorials.

What most of you are probably keen to hear about are techniques for FINDING things on eBay. It’s a vast site and quite overwhelming, so I can completely understand. Everyone shops differently, so my techniques may or may not work for you … but I’ll share them just in case! (This is a bit of a treatise, so brace yourselves …)

  1. Saved searches
    This is my primary eBaying tool. If you go to the search bar and type in “Frye Veronica Slouch boot,” pick the “Clothing, shoes, and accessories” category from the dropdown, and hit enter, you’ll get a couple dozen listings.

    Right next to where it says “35 results found” you’ll see a tiny blue link that says “Save search.” So long as you’ve already signed into eBay, you can click that link and have that exact same search dumped into your e-mail inbox every day for up to a year.

    Obviously, it works best for VERY specific searches that include product names, brand names, and detailed descriptors. Ideal if you lusted after a particular pair of shoes, missed out, and are hoping to find them six months later. But more general searches can be beneficial, too. I’ve got a “Banana Republic skirt” search that gives me about 200 listings per day … so …


  2. Refine your searches
    When my 200 BR skirts come into my inbox over my lunch hour, I click through from my e-mail and refine the search. The left rail will show you ways to narrow down the results: By size, color, material, brand, and more. Get as specific as you’d like and you’ll have fewer items to pore over.

    There are certainly ways to refine the search BEFORE you sign up for the e-mails, but sometimes you just want to keep it general. And, of course, you can refine your searches anytime you shop on eBay – just punch your search terms into the bar, scan the results, and start adding parameters from the left rail.


  3. Watch items
    If you find an item that you are interested in but not quite prepared to bid upon, you can “watch” it. Right below the blue “bid” button is a little dropdown that says “Add to watch list.” Click it, and the listing will get saved to your My eBay area.

    Access your watch list by going to My eBay (top right) and choosing “Watch list.”

    You have to manually visit your watch list, but keeping items in this area allows you to observe them from afar, see if other folks are bidding, and contemplate your decision to bid.

  4. Decide on a bidding strategy
    My bidding strategy is generally to enter the largest dollar amount I’m willing to pay for a particular item, and leave it to the fates. Sometimes that means I get outbid by one cent during the last 10 seconds of an auction, but c’est la vie. You can certainly try to win by hovering at your computer as the clock ticks down, but server speeds, Internet connections, and countless other factors can interfere with you getting that last bid placed in time. There are services like Auction Sniperthat will place bids for you at the last minute … but I haven’t found them helpful. 
  5. Think before you bid
    When you enter that number, you are committing to paying your chosen amount should you win. NEVER bid more than you can afford to pay. Even if you believe you have no chance at winning. You never know what will happen – items that appear in-demand can fall out of favor, listings can fly under the radar, all sorts of factors may end up conspiring to make that vintage necklace unexpectedly yours. So only bid what you can afford to pay. 
  6. Be patient
    I bought these shoes off eBayabout a year and a half after they were sold out in stores. It took that long for them to surface in my size and in a price range that suited me. You MAY be able to find something immediately, but you may not. Wait it out. 
  7. Be thorough
    Now, this is the one that may make some folks cringe. If you really want to be a successful eBay consumer, look at all of the search results that fit your criteria. All of them. I was on a quest for blue boots during the summer and I probably looked at 250 listings every time I searched. There were loads of dupes and I could cruise through quickly, but scanning the lot of them helped me to know I’d seen everything that was available. 
  8. Be smart
    Before you bid on a product, put its brand and style name into Google and make sure it’s not being sold elsewhere and/or for less. As a free market model, prices are “all that the traffic will bear,” meaning if someone is willing to pay it, it’s a fair price. Just because it’s on eBay doesn’t mean it’s automatically a bargain. Shop smart and do your homework.

My biggest mistake? Bidding on stuff and thinking, “Oh, I’ll NEVER win THAT.” I have ignored my own advice up there in #4 more times than I care to admit. And although it has brought me some killer shoes and amazing deals, it has also forced me to scramble for money I wasn’t truly planning to spend. Because eBay has an element of gambling to it, and because luck and randomness figure in, it’s best to impose as much of your own logic and reason on the system as possible. And I struggle with that sometimes.

Also remember that purchasing via eBay is always riskier than buying from a regular online retailer. Always. So if you’re searching for something that needs to fit exactly right, or needs to fit exact specifications, I’d try elsewhere. Shopping on eBay is fun and rewarding, but transactions can and do go wrong in ways that they seldom will with mass retailers.

That said, eBay is also a great place to look for weird, unusual, slightly damaged, past season, or otherwise hard-to-find stuff at great prices. I’ve put everything from “Bohemian garnet” to “badger shirt” into that search bar and had a whale of a time poring over the results! And, as I’ve mentioned, I’ve landed some outrageous deals – specific, lusted-after items that might never have turned up thrifting. So for all its risks, I do adore eBay.

How do you eBay?

**Disclosure: Actions you take from the hyperlinks within this blog post may yield commissions for See Already Pretty’s disclosure statement for more details.

  • Wanda

    I live in Asia and it is impossible to find clothing here that will fit me. I buy ALL of my clothes from eBay and I’ve had incredible success (and some amazing failures) using it.

    You’re right to say it’s necessary to be thorough. And I can’t stress enough that if there is an item that you fall in love with and really want to buy but there’s some information missing, be sure to contact the seller. If they’re not willing to provide information or their listing is really vague and they don’t return your emails, then it’s best to forget about that item. Also, check the sellers feedback history and look at any negative comments; the negative things buyers say may give you further information about the quality of the products being sold. (I try to only buy from sellers with 100% positive feedback).

    Oh, one more thing. ALWAYS check the shipping charges. I’ve come across things I thought were great deals, for example, a beautiful $10 sweater, only to find that the seller is charging $29 for shipping! A lot of times sellers may use extremely low prices for the item, then recoup their losses through exorbitant shipping prices, so it’s really important to know ahead of time how much the seller charges to ship to you.

    All in all, eBay can be a great source if you are not located close to retail locations or if you have a specific taste in styles or if you are a hard-to-find size.